|Manuel R. Delgado
“The Chicano is America”
What is a Chicano? Where does the word come from?
These questions have been on the minds of not only Anglos, but many Mexican-Americans as well.
The most popular story concerning the origin of the word and its meaning comes from Meso-American history. In 1519, after many years of preparations and setbacks, Cortez succeeded in conquering the Mexica (Aztec) capital of Tenochtitlan.
The result was the painful birth of a new people, the Meztizo. The Meztiso resembled more the indigenous population, and was placed quite low in a rigid class structure based on Spanish blood. The Spaniards continued to refer to them as Mexicanos, pronounced Mechicanos.
The term came to be associated with the poor and downtrodden. It was used to designate low character as well as low class. The term was finally shorted to Chicano.
To this day it carries a negative meaning.
The vast number of early immigrants to the United States were of this status. They continued to refer to themselves, in a self-effacing manner, as Chicanos.
Chicanos in the Southwestern United States became known for something else. Their distance form Mexican culture and its influence and their contact with Anglo people resulted in the development of a bi-cultural consciousness.
The Chicano, therefore, is best known for his style of expression transmitted by way of a “pocho” Spanish. Pocho is an idiom that used words from both English and Spanish, and direct translations form one to the other.
The Chicano’s life style has earned him criticism and ostracism from both cultures. Mexicans consider him a “vendido” or sell-out, for having acquired Anglo traits. Anglos have done the same – looking down on the Chicano for not becoming completely “Americanized”.
This life experience has introduced a new element to the Chicano character - an identity problem. Mexicans have for years been trying to reconcile their Spanish and Indian heritage, and now the Chicano has been forced to wonder about himself even more.
Mexicans, that is, citizens of Mexico, have not quite solved this problem. There still exists in Mexico the culture based on “Indianismo” and the culture based on European history.
The Chicano, then, to resolve this problem, has turned to his reality and accepted it to the fullest. He has developed pride in his life style that now permits him to challenge a hostile world.
The Chicano is not a Mexican. He is not a Mexican-American.
He is bi-cultural, with a dual consciousness of indigenous and European character.
The Chicano, then, represents all races, all cultures.
The Chicano is America.
Chicano is used only of Mexican Americans, not of Mexicans living in Mexico. It was originally an informal term in English (as in Spanish), and the spelling of the first recorded instance in an American publication followed the Spanish custom of lowercasing nouns of national or ethnic origin. However, the literary and political movements of the 1960s and 1970s among Mexican Americans established Chicano as a term of ethnic pride, and it is properly written today with a capital. •While Chicano is a term of pride for many Mexican Americans, it remains a word with strong political associations. Since these politics are not necessarily espoused by all Mexican Americans, and since usage and acceptance of this word can vary from one region to another, an outsider who is unfamiliar with his or her audience may do well to use Mexican American instead.
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